The Profile of a Mass Shooter

photo credit: Furryscaly via photopin cc
photo credit: Furryscaly via photopin cc

Once again, the United States has been rocked by a mass shooting in which mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, siblings, children, and grandparents have been brutally murdered. The shooting at the Washington Naval Yard was serious enough (meaning that enough people were killed) to give our nation collective pause—to take a momentary break from our daily pursuits, to express sadness for the senseless loss of life, and to express our continued sense of bewilderment over the escalating number of mass shooting events.

Guns are a factor, for sure, but as I’ve written before, the problem runs much deeper than the availability of weapons. Indeed, we have seen enough of these events to identify common themes at play in the lives of those who commit such acts of violence.

Most mass shooters have been men with identity issues (sometimes to the point of mental instability). Their struggles with insecurity may stem from broken or dysfunctional family environments, or from the systematic mistreatment by peers. Often, detectives uncover a pain-filled combination of the two factors. Immersed in a toxic environment of violent TV shows, movies, and video games that desensitize a heart to the value of human life, their emotions are like dry tinder just waiting for a spark—any spark—to ignite a wildfire.

photo credit: Ansel Edwards Photography via photopin cc
photo credit: Ansel Edwards Photography via photopin cc

In addition, there is another theme that is all too common in our increasingly fractured society—isolation. Don’t get me wrong—there is such a thing as good isolation, such as those times when we withdraw from the daily clamor of life to seek God and to recharge. This, however, is not that. The isolated world of a shooter is full of dark, brooding, life-stealing thoughts. In such situations, the human mind left to its own musings will come to no good conclusions.

What many of us fail to realize is that a shooting rampage is merely the culmination of an ongoing process. For every mass shooter, there are thousands, perhaps even millions of people living in their own isolated worlds, brooding over mistreatment, abandonment, betrayal, and a host of other unjust acts against their persons. Each bitter thought is an act of violence in its own right, and if allowed to run its course, some form of damage will certainly result.

This form of dangerous isolation is a type of “spiritual wilderness”—desolate territory where God appears to be absent and people uncaring. Most of us have these types of experiences to one degree or another; what marks the difference between life and death is the manner in which we process the adversity we face.

God is greater than any difficulty—even injustice—that any of us will ever face. But only those who trust Him, who learn to process their circumstances through the eye of faith, will emerge as champions over darkness and hate. No matter how bleak the horizon may appear, the eye of faith will look beyond the storm clouds to see dazzling rays of hope.

photo credit: Ashley Pollak via photopin cc
photo credit: Ashley Pollak via photopin cc

Though a wilderness experience of this sort may be nothing of our own choosing, how we process such circumstances is entirely ours. May we never forget that the sovereign Creator of the Universe is able to turn even sinful human choices toward His eternal purposes. That, after all, is one of the things that makes Him God. But what about us—will we believe?

(This post is loosely based on the content of my new book, Champions in the Wilderness, which is now available for sale through Amazon and through our new SfMe Media website. This searchforme.wordpress.com site is now being phased out with this final post. All future blog entries will be posted to our new ministry website, searchforme.info. You can subscribe by entering your email in the subscribe panel on the right-hand side of the new website.)

Are You Being Played?

photo credit: Sarah_Ackerman via photopin cc
photo credit: Sarah_Ackerman via photopin cc

Once again, summer had come to an end and the next school year was upon us—as signified by our annual county fair. The array of flashing lights, the mixed aromas of the food booths, and the bold sounds of the high school band competition all contributed to the fair experience. After sampling a few items that probably shouldn’t be classified as “food” due to their lack of nutritional value, we decided to take a walk around the midway.

I’m usually very careful about the types of carnival games I play; I won’t spend the money if I don’t think I have a really good chance of winning. There was one game, however, that looked very doable so my buddy, Jerry, and I plopped down a couple of bucks for the opportunity to throw a softball into a basket. The guy manning the booth made it look easy as could be, so I figured that I too could make it happen and emerge a hero for my wife by winning a stuffed animal. Only a short time later, I was a goat with no prize and a wallet that was ten dollars lighter. I never found out exactly how the carny vendor did it, but I knew I had been played.

Several months ago, while reading through the book of Acts, I noticed a trend. When opponents of the gospel attempted to hinder its spread, they often did so by stirring up the emotions of the masses. One or two lone individuals would incite an entire crowd to drive the Apostle Paul and his ministry team out of town. A lot has changed in the 2000 years since, but the basic technique remains the same. If anything, the strategies involved with manipulating people have improved dramatically.

photo credit: brian glanz via photopin cc
photo credit: brian glanz via photopin cc

We all know that due to our modern technological capabilities, “truckloads” of data are being minded from our daily actions. Businesses, and unfortunately our government, know where we go, where we shop, what we buy, and even what we like, to a large degree. And how is all of this data used? To move us toward particular actions—usually ones that involve us buying a product or placing a vote.

The same general techniques are used with media. Each movie takes the viewer through an intended range of emotions to establish a desired sense of connection. Each political ad is a carefully scripted effort to move public opinion in one direction or another. Each news broadcast carries a similar agenda, only the messages are generally more subtle.

photo credit: Michael Fleshman via photopin cc
photo credit: bMethe via Flickr cc

I have not closely followed the trial of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. I don’t know what really happened and so I hope and pray that the jury gets it right, and that justice is truly served.However, one thing has really frustrated me about the situation: to a large degree, some media outlets are manipulating human emotions in an effort to drive public opinion.

Why do many news broadcasts continue to show photos of a younger, more innocent looking Trayvon Martin? Why incite a race war by unnecessarily inflaming emotions? This case isn’t about a Hispanic killing an African American—it’s about whether a man recklessly crossed an essential line in his efforts to protect his neighborhood.

photo credit: Michael Fleshman via photopin cc
photo by Orange County Jail, Florida–Public Domain

The George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case provides us with a significant example of how public opinion is manipulated, but it is only the very small tip of a very large iceberg. The questions I am compelled to ask are the following: “What moves you?” “Are your emotions the primary driving force in your decision making processes?” “To what extent are you being played?” Emotions play an important and meaningful role in our lives but they if they serve as trusted guides, our general public will continue to be easily manipulated by the agendas of a very few.

Why Gun Control Misses the Point

photo credit: John Steven Fernandez via photopin cc
photo credit: John Steven Fernandez via photopin cc

“The findings were disturbing….” So goes the beginning of a paragraph in an article about the Pulitzer Prize winning report (Assault on Learning) by the Philadelphia Inquirer regarding violence in the Philadelphia school system. After reading further, I could not help but agree—it is all very disturbing!

More than 30,000 serious incidents were reported in the district over a five-year period. On an average day, 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or made victims of other violent crime. As large as those numbers seem, they didn’t represent the full gravity of the problem. Many violent incidents went unreported. Some attacks were carried out by children in the earliest grades.[1]

How many students are there in the district? According Susan Snyder—one of the lead journalists in the story—we are talking about only 146,000 students.[2] The significance of the problem becomes even greater when we recognize that schools are gun-free zones. In other words, very little of this violence had anything to do with firearms.

In one particularly sad case, more than 30 Asian students were brutally beaten by their fellow classmates—most of whom were African American. This type of situation was identity related and it stems from the third primary root of our fallen natures that contributes to violence—our quest for glory. Of the three roots mentioned—self-centered lust, the desire for control, and the quest for glory—the quest for glory is probably the most difficult for us to comprehend.

Adam & Eve had been created in the very image of God, and, being clothed in His glory, they were naked and unashamed. However, by choosing to seek a sense of goodness independent from their Creator, our ancient ancestors quickly found themselves naked and very much ashamed. Painfully separated from the King of Glory, the unhappy result was a glory deficiency which is now inherent to the entire human race.

Glory is fleeting . . .
photo credit: Brett Jordan via photopin cc

From a very young age, it becomes every person’s goal to find a sense of significance through his or her performance, appearance, possessions, etc. It is in the fickle court of human approval that we seek to find significance. As we enter the world of comparisons and judgments, our value as human beings depends upon our ability to measure up to the ever-changing standards of our individual subcultures. In the high school scene, for example, those who meet current standards of beauty and athletic performance become wildly popular, while those who fall far short of the standards find themselves condemned as objects of scorn.

The pursuit of glory is so ingrained in the human psyche that for the most part we find it to be entirely natural. But the division it creates and the destruction it wreaks! A group of black students viciously beat 30 Asian students in Philadelphia schools simply because the Asians did not meet the standards of a black identity. Ironically, it was the same mindset used by whites to justify the horrors of slavery for so many years. We can see that at its roots this type of violence has nothing to do with black or white or any other skin color—it’s rooted in an all-encompassing effort to achieve a glory-based identity.

The tree of identity-based violence springs from the seed of contempt. Any time we despise someone who fails to meet our particular standards we commit an act of spiritual violence toward that individual. Physical violence ultimately erupts as we nourish seeds of contempt with the right (or wrong, depending on one’s perspective) environmental conditions.

At its core, the Gospel is an identity message.[3] We find our true significance through our relationship with God, not by our performance, but in our lofty status as sons and daughters of the eternal King of Glory. To abide in Christ is to be clothed once again in God’s greatness, secure in identity and free to be humble.

photo credit: Good Eye Might via photopin cc
photo credit: Good Eye Might via photopin cc

 Will fewer people be killed if our government implements gun control measures? Possibly. Violence and its resulting pain, however, will continue to plague American society until we strike the problem at its evil roots. Once again, the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides the most powerful solution to what ails us!


[1] Susan Snyder, The Press, the Passion, and the Prize, as found in the IUP Magazine, VOL. XXX, NO.3, p. 17

[3] Check out our Search for Me Identity Study for a much more in-depth explanation.

The Mystery of Violence Revealed

Wet Dog
photo credit: Hello Turkey Toe via photopin cc

World peace! It is a vision long held by many. Each New Year, it seems, we try to cast off the violence of the previous year like a dog trying to shake off water. Unfortunately, dogs are much more effective in their drying off efforts than we are in our quest to eliminate conflict between humans. Why is peace so elusive? Either we don’t understand the root issues of conflict, or we don’t care enough to change our behavior.

Did you know that Cain’s murder of his brother Abel was not the first act of violence recorded in the Bible? Somewhere in the recesses of time–or perhaps before time began–the greatest of angels, the one we call Lucifer, attempted a violent coup against the Creator of the Universe.

How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
But you said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.” Isaiah 14:12-14

Three particular aspects of this attempted coup are extremely relevant for our purposes:

Pride
Photo by SfMe Ministries Inc.

1. Lucifer repeatedly uses “I” to define his self-centered quest. Mysteriously, while God willingly receives worship, He is not self-centered. Always motivated by love and compassion for others, the life of Christ serves as evidence of God’s other-centered heart.

2. Lucifer also adds the word “will” to each of his five uses of “I”. Thus, one of his primary goals is for power and control.

3. Lucifer’s ultimate goal is to be like the Most High (the King of Glory), to lift himself up above all others.

When Adam and Eve fell prey to the serpent’s temptation in the Garden of Eden, they inherited the same  three tendencies which collectively form what we call pride. (I sometimes call it “C-pride” or “collective pride”.) It should stand as no surprise, then, that Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, murdered his younger brother due to nothing more than jealousy. The rest, unfortunately, is history. Since that fateful day in the Garden, human activity has always been beset with violent sexual assaults, murders, and wars of all kinds.

I have written about much of this in the past, but it bears repeating in light of recent mass shootings in the U.S. When someone mercilessly kills 20 first-grade children, as happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, something is desperately wrong. But something has been desperately wrong almost from the beginning of time as we know it. Even societies that have all appearances of peace are not that far from being immersed in conflict. Like a virus waiting for an immune system to be compromised, the violent tendencies of human nature need only time and opportunity to fully run their course.

Really, only two options are possible for the violence to cease:

Fidel Castro
photo credit: Mr Jaded via photopin cc

1. We remove various layers of freedom until an authoritarian government removes all potential weapons of resistance and forces its citizens to get along. Of course, the very real danger is that the authoritarian regime will itself be violent, subjecting its people to all sorts of cruelty and injustice.

2. We provide people with freedom but change their hearts so that they are motivated by love rather than selfish hatred. Herein lies the foundation for a truly prosperous society, but eliminating the selfish, self-exalting tendencies of the human heart is no simple matter. Real change requires much more than wishful thinking.

Unfortunately, in our self-absorbed world, freedom eventually leads to moral decay, giving way to violence in the end. At the other end of the spectrum, those revolutionaries who rise up to break the grip of an oppressive regime will almost always become the oppressors themselves.

In prophesying the birth of Jesus, Isaiah called Him the “Prince of Peace”. As a revolutionary, Jesus rebelled against the oppressive, self-absorbed establishment, but He broke their power in a thoroughly mysterious manner. By suffering unjustly Himself, Jesus Christ provided the antidote for each of the root causes of violence. We call that antidote the Gospel.

Happy New Year!
photo credit: HackBitz via photopin cc

I, too, really would like to see world peace. In my upcoming posts I will highlight how the Gospel truly is the only lasting cure for deadly virus of violence, but until then, I want to wish you all a happy New Year! My hope is that it won’t be a year that goes to the dogs!

The Violence Cocktail – Guns Are Not the Only Ingredient

photo credit: ~Steve Z~ via photopin cc
photo credit: ~Steve Z~ via photopin cc

Once again the liberal/conservative battle lines have been drawn. Adamant about the need for gun control, many liberals seem to believe that banning all gun ownership would lead to a peaceful and happy society. On the other side of the front, a lot of conservatives give the impression that if every American packed, violence would come to a virtual standstill. Once again, as is often be the case, both sides are completely missing the heart of the matter. If heaven were a giant GPS unit, the entire Earth would hear “RECALCULATING” sounding through the skies.

So, if the violence in our culture (and in our world) isn’t really about guns, then what is it about? The answer can be found in a common word ripe with profound meaning – identity. Almost all of the conflict on earth is the result of not knowing who we are in the eyes of heaven.

I am not saying that guns are irrelevant when it comes to the problem with violence but that there are deeper things happening beneath the surface—issues that we don’t understand or prefer not to touch. We tend to focus on what we know; that which we can see and touch; the things that relieve us of any personal sense of responsibility. Guns, then, become the primary issue, but listen to any expert talking about a mass shooting and you will find that they are always identity related.

Our problem with gun violence is actually the mix of a deadly cocktail with four primary ingredients—all of which are strongly influenced by our materialistic culture.

photo credit: jessgrrrr via photopin cc

1. Lost identity – In a general sense, children receive care and nurture from their mothers, but find their primary source of security and identity from their relationship with their fathers. Further still, wise and loving parents will learn how to shape a child’s heart so that he or she is tender-hearted toward God and entirely secure as a beloved child of the King of the Universe. The breakdown begins, however, when a father is harsh, distant, or entirely absent, resulting in what we might call an orphan spirit in the heart of a child. Generally, a young woman with an orphan spirit will look to a romantic relationship with a man to satisfy her need for validation, while a young man will seek out ways to prove himself.

photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker via photopin cc

2. A culture of violence – A young man looking to establish a sense of identity will pursue success as defined by the subculture that surrounds him. Most of the time, this means trying to prove himself on some type of masculine field of valor. When we add violent movies—and especially video games—to the mix, his heart is desensitized.

3. The loss of moral constraints – Through the influence of atheism and the erosion of traditional Judeo-Christian morals, not only is morality becoming meaningless, but so is the value of a human life.

4. The availability of guns – When we add easy access to high capacity firearms to the previous three ingredients mentioned, we cannot help but expect the types of mass shootings we saw at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and now Sandy Hook Elementary.

The solution to our violence problem has long been with us but very few recognize or appreciate its value. Two thousand years ago, ours was a world that had lost its way. Political, economic, and even religious leadership, had become entrenched with a self-absorbed elitist mentality—a mindset bearing the fruit of oppression and injustice. It was then that heaven send the most powerful “RECALCULATING” message ever known to mankind.

photo credit: lennyk410 via photopin cc
photo credit: lennyk410 via photopin cc

Jesus came not as a king but as a carpenter. Born in a stable through questionable circumstances, and to parents of lowly status, the very Son of God provided the means for every person on earth to find security as a much-loved child of God. His was—and is—the only sure and certain formula for true peace on earth. More powerful than any weapon of destruction ever envisioned by humankind, the Gospel of Jesus Christ remains the cure for all that ails us. If we truly care about the children of this world, we will seek to to rediscover the amazing power of the Gospel. What better time of the year to do this than at Christmas?